Every year, experts share their views and predictions on the most critical upcoming CSR and sustainability trends. Their opinions are widely shared within social media channels and may even become topical lectures for freeriding university professors.

After examining as many articles as I could regarding the 2015 global sustainability trends, I noticed a “trend” of my own; there was no real trend at all.  After questioning whether my peers really understand the meaning of the word trend, I came to the conclusion that the word is being broadly misused as it rises in popularity across platforms.  Previously a trend was a force, a tsunami wave of random origins.  In today’s world a trendy YouTube video (known as viral) can make you famous and even wealthy.  In today’s world the aim of nearly every post or creative input is to make a trend.  Back to sustainability, I was unable to consolidate the 2015 predicted trends into more than a few overlapping general topics, such as:

  • The workplace needs to become better,
  • The energy sector is going through a change,
  • Water will be increasingly important in the future, and of course,
  • Consultants universally predict that more companies will be paying them handsomely to create year end sustainability reports

So I then thought instead of putting efforts into generating trending-taglines, I would be better served to develop a practical, viable action plan for deploying sustainability practices.

In this article, I’m proposing a global sustainability road map – that tackles the most urgent practices useful to support change in the corporate sector. To do so, I’m using the Balanced Scorecard Model; as put forth by Drs. Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton in early 1990, which is a strategic planning and management system that is used extensively in business and industry, government, and nonprofit organizations worldwide to align business activities to the vision and strategy of the organization, improve internal and external communications, and monitor organization performance against strategic goals. You can learn more here: www.balancedscorecard.org

My road map will be based on a basic process that companies follow to holistically deploy sustainability within their operation;

The normal sustainability deployment process starts by reviewing internal governance mechanisms and drafting policies that help sustainability flourish. In addition to investing into the development of a workforce that understands, it also commits itself to wearing the hat of the company’s sustainability directions.

In the presence of an enabling regulation and structured process in place – businesses will be confident to develop strategic partnerships and invest into sustainability and community projects.

Naturally, partnerships and investments have be accompanied by a thorough reporting, evaluation and measurement mechanism in order maximize the impact driven and help set performance benchmarks in the industry.

Now, as we have defined the process to deploy sustainability within a business, here is a basic personal analysis on the critical success factors and the most pressing actionale issues to holistically embrace sustainability at all stages of the deployment process.

The normal sustainability deployment process starts by reviewing internal governance mechanisms and drafting policies that help sustainability to flourish. In addition to investing into the development of a workforce that understands, buy-in to and commit to wearing the hat of the company’s sustainability ambitious.

In the presence of an enabling regulation and structured processes in place – businesses would feel the inner confidence to go out and work on the development of strategic partnerships and invest into sustainability and community projects.

Naturally, partnerships and investments have to be enforced by a thorough reporting, evaluation and measurement mechanism in order to maximize the impact driven and help setting performance benchmarks in the industry. That was basic no?

Now, as we have defined the basic process to deploy sustainability within a business, here is a basic personal analysis on the critical success factors and the most pressuring issues to act upon in order to holistically embrace sustainability at all stages of the deployment process.

Governance

  • The issues associated with corporate responsibility and sustainability have become increasingly relevant to boardroom discussions
  • Sustainability has become critical to risk management. Sustainability strategies will start to systematically use risk-based thinking
  • Governance system taking into consideration companies’ social, economic and environmental risks and opportunities
  • From a governance for sustainability to an integrated governance model

Learning and Awareness

  • Growing number of CSR and sustainability related MBAs and post-graduate programs
  • Skills-based CSR, sustainability and corporate volunteering are trends on the rise
  • Performance evaluation based on sustainability metrics. Rewarding employees for being part of companies’ sustainability programs
  • Employee integration is the logical and important next step from employee volunteerism and engagement

Regulation

  • More and more governments are introducing laws and regulations related to either promoting sustainability or/and mandating it as a mainstream practice for holding companies accountable
  • Forward-thinking companies stood up for real engagement with policymakers in order to lobby for sustainability regulations and advancement
  • Regulation is a signal of design failure, while sustainability seeks innovative and effective design. Solutions deployed today often discourage creative problem solving

Processes

  • Researches focused on the development of efficient integrated business processes that contribute to growth with strong care keeping of environmental and social needs
  • Growing confusion with the growing number of sustainability frameworks and models
  • Innovation and technology stood out to be a key solution in order to optimize processes and cut operational costs
  • Non-profits and companies started leveraging big data for social good and sustainable development agendas

Investment

  • The Circular Economy: investing in an entire new system design that centralize resources in a way that prevents losses
  • Investors are turning to community investing and impact investing for measurable social impact combined with a solid return on investment
  • Sustainable Value Chain is creating a new frontier for sustainable businesses
  • Increasing investment in clean energycarbon trading and H&S standards

Partnerships

  • Building strategic partnerships with the objectives of creating shared values
  • The role of business is needed to be more inclusive in order meet the expectation that society and communities have of them – which we call – the social license to operate
  • Materiality will dramatically impacting the way companies are choosing community partners and social causes
  • Stakeholder engagement is moving from feedback on companies’ performances to solving shared challenges

Transparency and Accountability

  • Social impact measurement becomes common practice and becomes a driver for systematic improvements and social investment strategy development
  • Investors increasingly considering published sustainability reports as business requirement and demanding transparency on ESG issues
  • Companies are going to start embracing transparency more as younger generations are demanding it
  • The idea of radical transparency is something that few brands are taking advantage of now, and most brands fight it

Compiling together all the identified sustainability issues and pressured actions, we will be able to create the following Road Map based on the Balanced Scorecard model.

Looking to the future, CSR and sustainable development will go through a transformational phase towards a more inclusiveinnovative and shared value creation approach. The role of business is needed to be more inclusive and sustainably structured in order meet the expectation that society and communities have of them which we call – the social license to operate. They are requested to empower an entire society towards economic independence and addressing root cause social issues. This process requires an investment into the development of new innovative and creative solutions to impact both the delicate social agenda as well as mitigating the global environmental risks. Accordingly, inclusiveness and innovation will support the creation of shared values opportunities which will increase businesses’ competitiveness and enhance communities’ health.